53a[“Native Lock Hospitals”, The West Australian, Saturday 02 July 1910, page 9]



By “Vindex.”

The feelings inspired by a visit to the native lock hospitals, established by the Government on Bernier and Dorre Islands in Shark Bay for the segregation and treatment of diseased natives are depressing and discomforting rather than otherwise. Little that is picturesque, less that is romantic is to be seen on those islands or in the work to which they are now being applied. Dorre Island—Dirk Hartog so christened it because of its barrenness—and Bernier Island form, together with Dirk Hartog Island, a long rampart protecting Shark Bay and Carnarvon from the roll and sweep of the Indian Ocean. But for that defensive use the two smaller islands might well be waste islands—low accumulations of rock and sand and scrub, un undulating monotony of unpicturesqueness. It is to such places as these that the unfortunate natives who have contracted some of the foulest and most loathsome of diseases are shipped by a maternal Government, there to remain exiled till drug and knife and nursing have rendered them fit to return to native society without menace to their fellows. It is on these islands that a staff of men and women have unselfishly consented to be marooned to care for the sickly aborigines, and for one who has not been there it is impossible to realise the loneliness and monotony of life that is far, very far, from the world of plate-glass windows. The one redeeming feature of the establishments is the Christian humanitarianism which pervades the work—work which is of the very essence of practical charity. No matter with what relief one may leave those compounds, the uppermost feelings in the visitor’s mind are those of sympathy for and appreciation of a truly benevolent scheme. Disease was one of the prices the black races have had to pay for their contact with white conquerors and the yellow and brown sojourners, but somewhat tardily the State has stepped forward to the rescue of the natives by the enforcement of a system which embodies as the essentials of success the segregation of the patient and competent treatment of him or her till a cure has been effected.

Extending the Scope of the Hospitals.

The work at these lock hospitals has been deseribed often enough to be understood by now, but the Colonial Secretary had a special object in revisiting the islands a few days ago. Sufficient success had already come out of the experiment to prove that it was proceeding on right lines, and the Government had come to a decision to persevere with the work and to adopt measures which it was believed would conduce to greater efficiency. There were things being done and to be done which Mr. Connolly wanted to see for himself. It was for that reason that coming southward after his trip to the North-West he ran across in the Penguin from the mainland and landed on a stretch of shelving sandy beach on the eastern side of Bernier Island. The resident medical officer (Dr. Lovegrove) was absent, but the Minister was met by Dr. Steele, the Government bacteriologist, who has been conducting research work there, and is acting-officer in charge, and the matron (Miss Pengelly) who with two nurses and a laboratory assistant constitute the staff. A cottage built by a squatter, who was so hermit-like as to choose Bernier Island as a summer watering place, provides very cosy quarters for the nurses, who, when the day’s task is over, can get vigorous relaxation by playing tennis ankle-deep in sand, or fishing, or swimming—when the sharks are not looking. Bernier Island is reserved entirely for the women, who, at the time of Mr. Connolly’s visit, numbered 78. Half a mile from the staff’s quarters is the dressing ward, and on the surrounding flats are the camps of the patients divided and regulated into little tribal communities. This odd jumble of low shelters of brush and hessian is the village of the Marble Bar ladies, and [?40] yards yonder is a settlement of Kimberley origin. The furniture in each domicile consists of a couple of coloured blankets, a billy can, perhaps a couple of jam tins, and a small smouldering fire. In summer and winter they all have their fires—not that the fires are of any use but simply that they are part of their lives. Everywhere a little wisp of smoke is rising from a few smouldering chips, and near by the modest conflagration sits Mary Broome or Rosie Marble Bar, or Fanny Somewhereelse in a loose overall of coloured fabric. The wardrobe of these ladies is not half so extensive as their vanity.

Leading the Simple Life.

This concession to convention is the only attempt to restrict the natural life of the natives. Small cubicles of wood, hessian, and iron are provided by the Government for them to live in, but in the majority of instances the girls prefer their own little rude shelters of leaves and brushwood. Food they get in abundance. With flour they make a damper which makes a good showing on the scales, and they get other stores, including occasional jam. In the matter of supplies they sometimes show a dainty fastidiousness, as, for instance, when one lady of precise tastes returned her tin of black currant jam saying, “No want black stuff; gib em white jam.” They prefer their native game, and as some of the tribes are particularly good hunters they feed plentifully on wallaby, boodie rats, and fish, and turtles when in season. The treatment of the women does not require very studied dieting, and the consequence is that the majority range from fatness to positive corpulency. The pride of the island is Rosie, who tips the scales at 15 stone. Except that each day they must attend for dressing, they live a free and unfettered life, and they seem to take their detention with smiling philosophy. They are affable and tractable, but beauty is a rare grace, whilst in some instances disease has reduced the features to revolting hideousness. They all smoke and even exceed the daring of the lady of fashion in that it is not a dainty scented cigarette, but a well-seasoned clay pipe that one sees between their lips. A couple of picanninnies, one born on the island, afford opportunities for the natives to reveal the maternal instinct which is strong in all of them. The real sordidness is not revealed to the visitor, and clothes cover a multitude of sins, but knowing why the women are there one feels glad to wave goodbye to the unfortunates, and to get beyond the menace which each fly of the myriads that throng the camps seems to convey. At the same time there is a breath of hope and sunshine in the record of the many cures effected, and former sufferers, who had been veritable perveyors of disease, returned whole and happy to their tribes.

Changes at Dorre Island.

Practically the same work is in progress at Dorre Island, which has less than 50 male patients. But the men seem more civilised than the women. They nearly all speak intelligible English, and they appear to be cleanlier in their person and in their camps, in which the portable cubicles supplied by the Government have been more largely employed. Disease in the case of the men is more easily treated, and provided that the sufferers are brought to the islands before it has advanced too far, a fairly high percentage of cures can be relied upon. When Mr. Connolly was there he saw a number of patients who had been completely restored to health, whilst half a dozen of the more able-bodied of these were being usefully employed in knapping stones and doing other work connected with the building operations then in progress. At present the male patients occupy the larger of the two islands, but as the treatment of the women is a bigger and more important work, the men will shortly vacate Dorre, and will take up their abode at Bernier, whilst the women will take their places at Dorre. In preparation for this change special buildings are being erected on this island. A small cottage for the doctor and extensive premises for the staff, built with due regard to ventilation and coolness, are already completed, and the erection of a surgical ward with baths, sanitary conveniences, washing room, and operating room attached is well advanced. When first the native lock hospitals were established it was believed that ordinary outdoor treatment would be sufficient, but as experience has proved that in many cases surgical treatment is better than medical, the provision of wards for such cases becomes necessary. Patients on whom the doctor’s scalpel had been used could scarcely be left to lie about in the sand and dust. Therefore the Government are erecting this ward to accommodate twenty beds; and in it the most serious cases will be housed and treated. The building is to be of timber and iron, with graded concrete floors, so that the place may be kept fresh and clean. Some distance away is another smaller building, where the out-patients will be attended to daily. This building as well as the living quarters for the doctor and staff will be of wood and iron, with walls of asbestos sheeting. At Bernier also a surgical ward identical in design with that at Doree, except that the accommodation provides for only twelve beds, is to he built. The Colonial Secretary has further arranged to run a flock of goats on Dorre Island, and to have experiments made in vegetable gardening.

The Problem of Mustering.

When the new buildings are completed. the proposed transfers made, and a medical officer in charge permanently appointed under the Public Service Act, Mr. Connolly expects to gets good results from these lock hospitals. Much importance is attached to the bacteriological investigations now being made by Dr. Steele at Bernier Island, with a view to determining the origin and character of the malady with which the natives are afflicted. The folly of the present system of leaving to the police the responsibility of saying whether a native is or is not a subject requiring the aid of the hospitals is obvious. For whilst the force undoubtedly contains many able and earnest officers the identification and diagnosis of an obscure disease is not the proper province of any layman. And yet it is essential to the success of the Government scheme that disease should be detected and the sufferer segregated for treatment. The natives will not submit themselves voluntarily, and the station owners, though cordially sympathetic towards the Government’s efforts, seem not yet to have seen a satisfactory way of co-operating with the State. What has been recommended to the Minister is that the Government should engage a young doctor to travel through the North and North-West, examine all suspicious cases, and make arrangements for the transport to the seaboard of those who need the services of the lock hospitals. To this proposal, provided it can be proved to be practicable, Mr. Connolly is cordially favourable. The need for an efficient mustering of the diseased natives was several times impressed upon the Minister, who was assured that the sufferers are legion, and that they are spread throughout the country. Unless these natives can be collected the present hospitals, while they may slightly ameliorate existing conditions, must utterly fail as a means of eradicating the disease.

AB notes:

Another information-rich “Vindex” piece.

53b[“Study of Native Races”, The West Australian, Friday 14 April 1911, page 5]




Mr. Alfred Brown, leader of the Cambridge Ethnological Expedition, which is at present making a study of the native races of this State, and devoting attention also to zoological research, returned to Perth from Carnarvon a few days ago. The object of his visit to Perth is to transact certain business associated with his work, and he will leave again on April 24 by the Koombana for the North-West. He will go inland from Carnarvon, but will devote his attention chiefly to the Ashburton district. The expedition consisted originally of Mr. Brown, Mr. Grant Watson (who devoted himself principally to a study of zoology, and who has returned to England), and Mrs. Daisy Bates, of this State. On his next trip it is understood that Mr. Brown will be accompanied by two men, including a native.

Speaking to one of our representatives yesterday, Mr. Brown stated that on his next trip he would be away for about six months—a period similar to that which he had already occupied in connection with the work of the expedition. Mr. Brown added that he had made a close study of the natives in those parts of which he had centred his work, and had got together a good deal of information, reports dealing with which would be published later in book form. “I do not know how far north I will get on my next trip,” remarked Mr. Brown. “This to some extent will depend upon the weather conditions at the latter end of the year. I have had the assistance of the Government in my work, but I am working independently of the Government, the expedition being under the direction of a committee of the Cambridge University. We are hopeful, however, that the Australian Governments may be persuaded to take up this work. Those directly associated with the expedition endeavoured at the outset to get the English Government to take up the work of studying the natives of different parts of the British Empire. The British Government, however, pointed out that they could not do anything alone, and they left it to the different colonial Governments to do what they would, each in its particular case. I may say that the Indian Government has established an Ethnographical Department, and in some way the English colonies in West Africa have done the same thing. Similar action is contemplated also in South Africa. As a result of the representations of the committee of the Royal Anthropological Institute, of which I am a Fellow, it has been decided by the Government of the Dominion of Canada to establish a department of ethnology, and for that work they have made a grant of over £800 a year. Australia, therefore, is practically the only place which has not a department of that kind for undertaking work similar to that which I am now engaged on. It is felt that it is essential that somethine should be done and we are trying to do it on subscribed funds. As regards the North-West natives, they appear to be dying out very rapidly. So far as I can tell at present, tuberculosis appears to be pretty rife amongst them and to be killing them off in numbers. It will be interesting to see how tuberculosis affects the blacks generally. I have not been amongst the absolutely wild natives for the simple reason that I could not talk to them and could not, in that connection, do anythiing in furtherance of my work. Furthermore, they will keep, so to speak, for they are probably not dying out so quickly as the others.”


When seen yesterday by a representative of the “West Australian” Mrs. Bates was brimming over with enthusiasm over what had already been accomplished. Looking, as she herself expressed it, “as fit as a fiddle,” notwithstanding a loss in weight of some thing like a stone, she had nothing to say concerning privations and hardships which must have been endured, but spoke only of the work that Mr. Brown and she had done and of what it was hoped to do when they returned to their task at an early date. As a student of the aboriginal races of the State, Mrs. Bates has perhaps no compeer, and yet that she herself acknowledges that she is almost startled by the discovery that she has still so much to learn in the matter, is an indication of the extraordinarily wide field that has to be covered. It had, she explained, been the intention of the expedition, after travelling by boat to Geraldton, to take train to Meekatharra and from thence work north, east, and west accordingly to the situation of the various tribes upon which they had to work. Unfortunately, however, what are known as “the Darlot murders” took place somewhere about that time, with the result that on their arrival in that locality they found that most of the tribes had decamped. They got into touch with some Wiluna, Lake Way, and Peak Hill natives and pursued their investigations for a while, but it was then decided that the party should proceed to Bernier and Dorre Islands, where there were representatives of so many of the tribes with which they wished to come in contact. During her stay in Sandstone Mrs. Bates met quite a number of her old friends and several married couples, the men and women of which were single when she had known them before. These all, welcomed her as “mother,” and showed the greatest delight in her reappearance among them. It was a time of trouble for many of them, because of the searching inquiries which were being made by the police, and they seemed to turn to her for comfort and protection. “The dear people,” she explained with feeling, “I simply love them. They are just simple children, and I would do anything in the world I could to help them. One poor old fellow was so terrified by the sight of the police constables that he promptly ran away from the tribe. He was, of course, pursued and clapped into prsion though he had had nothing whatever to do with the murders. The other natives came to me and asked me to help them. So I went to the police authorities and explained matters to them and they released the old man. The trouble, however, was that the natives immediately came along and asked me to get the others off, too. I told them I would do what I could, and I believe they were afterwards released at the Laverton trials. Perhaps, therefore, my ‘children’ give me the credit of that, too.”

Mrs. Bates proceeded to explain that she is known to the natives by the name of “Nyangi,” and that they have given her as her totems, “Fire” and “Water.” Many of the totems are edible, that is to say some have an emu, some a kangaroo, a rat, and so forth; and yet they think nothing of eating their totems whenever they run short of food. “I had an amusing experience at Sandstone one day,” Mrs. Bates went on to say. “I was singing the little song which has to do with the “Water” totem, and some of the natives in the camp heard me and asked me why I sang it. I replied, ‘The rain is coming.’ The following day, as luck would have it, the rain came in deluges, and I walked down to the camp just to see how they were getting on and to give my serge skirt a chance of being washed by the rain. When I reached the camp I was of course wet through, but said, ‘You see I have brought the rain.’ ‘Oh, yes,’ they replied, ‘him too much feller rain.’ The other members of the party went off at the same time as the prisoners and a large detachment of sick natives who were bound for the hospitals on the islands. I could not help feeling that if I went with them I should be shaking their confidence in me, that they would look upon me as having had something to do with the arrests. So I stayed behind for two or three days to reassure them, but I found to my delight that there had never been any need for that, and that they trusted me implicitly.”

On the islands most of the time had been spent in individually questioning the natives of the various tribes, and the result of this method had on the whole apparently been very satisfactory. Unfortunately, however, many of the natives had become contaminated or spoilt by contact with the whites, or at all events had lost a great deal of their native ways, and were not so easy to handle as others. On one occasion Mrs. Bates went across to Carnarvon, and on that day there arrived a detachment of Peak Hill natives, who were all in chains lest they should run away. “They were looking intensely miserable,” said Mrs. Bates, “but immediately they saw me in the buggy they crowded round with their manacled arms outstretched and begging for recognition at my hands. I knew many of them, of course, and spoke to them and told them I was going across with them. From that moment they became quite reconciled and seemed to feel that they had someone who could sympathise with them. They really are a grateful, simple people and are easily touched. If you could but see the affection in which they hold the brave nurses of the hospitals who tend them and care for them you would readily believe what I say. Men and women alike revere their nurses, and I am convinced that when the time comes for the natives to return to their tribes this affection will be found to be a happy means of inducing other affected men and women to go to the hospitals before they become very bad. The nurses, too, although they lead a lonely life, seem to be throwing themselves heart and soul into the work, and their attention and devotion to the sick natives is every bit as marked as the attitude of the natives towards them. Nothing more could, I am sure, be done for the natives than is now being done there.”

”It was interesting to note,” explained Mrs. Bates. “how the natives sort themselves out as soon as they reach the islands. At the natives of one tribe will keep together, and all those of another also keep to themselves. There is a certain amount of rivalry between the tribes in that if one gives a corroboree another will on the following day also hold one, and endeavour to make it more magnificent than that of the preceding day. But the natives are at all times courteous to one another, and in watching each other’s performances will never openly criticise or say hurtful things. Contact with the whites has extended their vocabulary in the direction not at all desirable. They do not realise that the words they are using are unfit to be spoken. When, however, I explained to them that such expressions were only used by the ‘bad white fellow’ they tried hard to drop them, and when I came away there was hardly a native who would make use of a swear word in my presence. I was inundated with presents when I left, and amongst other things I received a number of bambooroo sticks, or visiting cards, as they might be called. Jarl, the King of Meekatharra, gave me one to his head woman, indicating that she was to be my maid and do everything that I asked her to do. I have also a number of such introductions to many of the Peak Hill natives, which will be most useful to me when I return. I must go back very soon, lest all these things should be forgotten. It is necessary to strike while the iron is hot, and already I am feeling impatient to be off.”

Mrs. Bates will probably return in three or four weeks’ time, and then she will pursue her investigations around the Peak Hill district, and to the south of the Ashburton. Mr. Brown, she explained, will take the Ashburton district, and will work that with teams. She has not as yet arranged what form of locomotion she will make use of. She is glad to gratefully acknowledge on her part the munificent gift of £1,000 donated by Mr. S. McKay towards the expenses of the expedition.

AB notes:

Both Daisy and Radcliffe-Brown were both in town and interviewed for The West Australian on 14 April 1911,

but probably returned to Perth independently.

Daisy makes excuses for the separation at Sandstone, but one assertion is probably correct: that Radcliffe Brown and Grant Watson left the district with some arrested prisoners and some sick natives bound for the islands.

Bates shows some self-aggrandisement:

“They were looking intensely miserable,” said Mrs. Bates, “but immediately they saw me in the buggy they crowded round with their manacled arms outstretched and begging for recognition at my hands. I knew many of them, of course, and spoke to them and told them I was going across with them. From that moment they became quite reconciled...”

“The other natives came to me and asked me to help them. So I went to the police authorities and explained matters to them and they released the old man. The trouble, however, was that the natives immediately came along and asked me to get the others off, too. I told them I would do what I could, and I believe they were afterwards released at the Laverton trials. Perhaps, therefore, my ‘children’ give me the credit of that, too.”

Interesting also that Bates’s opinion of the islands in 1911 and the opinions she expressed much later are completely irreconcilable.

“The nurses, too, although they lead a lonely life, seem to be throwing themselves heart and soul into the work, and their attention and devotion to the sick natives is every bit as marked as the attitude of the natives towards them. Nothing more could, I am sure, he done for the natives than is now being done there.”